How Representation Reflects on the Author

representation

This can end up going both ways, so be in for a ride.

Diverse is always a good thing to market your book as, but when is it not? What’s the difference between good and bad representation, and how can you avoid offending people?

And, worst of all, does the end result reflect the true values of the writer?

I was joking earlier. This one is actually quite simple.

When is it not a good thing?

Diversity is not good when it’s used as a plot twist, or is inaccurate, or attacks another diverse aspect, or uses the idea of diversity to prove why its a bad thing.

It’s not good when you have a black character be homophobic. It’s not good when you have a gay character bash bisexuality. It’s not good when it’s portrayed completely inaccurately. It’s not good if someone is guilt tripped out of being asexual.

Feel free to write about those situations, but only if they’re addressed in text as to why they’re wrong. And, personally, it’s good to leave stories like these to #OwnVoices authors. They know what they’re talking about. Non-OwnVoices authors are more likely to trip up and actually do the opposite of what they meant to do, and just cause more damage.

What’s the difference between good and bad rep?

Good Representation: Where someone with that minority feels comfortable and happy with how they are portrayed. There are no problems with representation, no slurs, no questionable dialogue.

(Unless the book specifically deals with that. But then all of that would still have to be challenged within text to still be *good* representation. Like Dreadnought by April Daniels. Danny deals with constant transphobia, but it was portrayed as wrong and hurtful. (Plus April Daniels is an #OwnVoices author) That makes Dreadnought *good* representation.)

Bad Representation: Uses slurs, bashes other minorities, gets the minority completely wrong, gets a part of it right but another wrong. Basically, everything up above in When is it not a good thing?. Don’t use being bisexual as a plot twist. There’s nothing wrong with being bisexual, so people who use identifications as plot twists are just screwed up.

Also, lets not forget our recent trainwrecks: The Continent, Carve the Mark, and Nevernight. 

The Continent: Don’t portray people of color as savages. Don’t portray people of color as savages, and then use the “white savior” trope.

Carve the Mark: Don’t portray people of color as savages. Don’t say chronic illness is a gift. (To be frank: fuck off with that bull shit.)

(For both The Continent & Carve the Mark, check out Justina Ireland’s post here if you haven’t gotten the full message on the problems.)

Nevernight: Don’t use someone’s culture to make your fantasy world more unique if you’re not going to do the needed research. Also, don’t portray people of color as savages.

(Check out Anjulie Te Pohe’s post here about the problems in Nevernight.)

How do you avoid offending people?

Research.

Research, and more research and more research. 

If it’s not your identity, or even if it is, get sensitivity readers. Do more research. The only way to learn is from mistakes. Take criticism and learn from it. Don’t deny if you’ve done something wrong, because if someone is calling you out for it, then you did something wrong.

How does it reflect on the author?

Oh, boy. The *big* question.

If you write the white savior saving the POC savages? You’re racist. That shows that the author see POC as savages and that only a white person can save them. I’m not POC, but I’m learning.

Let’s just say this: If you writing shows something negative against POC, is queerphobic, racist, or ableist in any way, it shows what you believe. It reflects what the author, either consciously or unconsciously, believes. Maybe you didn’t mean to make it racist. But that’s what it ended up becoming, so you need to take the criticism and learn from it. It shows what you unconsciously believe, and that stuff needs to be found and fixed before too long.

I still haven’t heard from someone who meant for something to be racist, but there are plenty of people who claim to deny the racism in their stories. But they aren’t POC. So how would they know?

This goes along with more than just racism. It also goes with ableism, queerphobia, and everything else.

Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

What are other ways you’ve witnessed diversity being used? Do you think bad rep reflects on the author?

(Disclaimer: I’m not POC. If you see something wrong with something I’ve said, please tell me. If you see anything wrong with what I’ve said, tell me. I only wish to keep learning, and will accept any and all criticism. Thank you.)

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7 thoughts on “How Representation Reflects on the Author

  1. I think this is a very good post and I agree with most of what you have said. The only thing I’m a little iffy about is when you mentioned that only #OwnVoices authors should write about diversity. I 100% agree that authors need to do a crazy amount of research in order to write a positive novel about diversity, but suggesting that, for e.g. a white, cis man only write about a white cis man is counter-productive. If I could borrow your suggestion in the case of Sarah J. Maas’ novels: so many readers are hating on her at the moment because she features scarcely any diversity in her novels. However, by your logic, audiences can’t demand her to show diversity in her novels if she can only write from her own experience, which is the experience of a white, cis woman. It has then become a catch 22. As you said, these authors need to do far more research about the issues surrounding diversity, but editors also need to pick up on any issues during the copy editing stages.

    I also agree with you on how terrible it is when authors portray POC as savages. Wrong in so many ways. And I also agree that authors need to take criticism on and not deny anything if someone calls them out. The only way to learn more about diversity and promote it in novels is by having more conversations like this 🙂

    Hope I didn’t offend you or anything, I just wanted to put my two cents in 😀 ❤

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    • Hi! I might need to put it in clearer terms, but I meant that non-marginalized people should refrain from writing about queerphobic/racist/ableist stories. I agree 100% that non-marginalized people can and SHOULD write stories WITH these characters in them, but stories in which people because of being queer or a POC, or disabled are attacked should be left to those who have experienced them, lest the non-marginalized author makes the situation worse with misunderstanding what’s wrong. Say, if April Daniels, from my DREADNOUGHT example, wasn’t trans, then I would have been worried about how Danny and her experiences were portrayed because of all of the slurs and abuse in that book. And going off your SJM example, that’s a perfect point. Yes, she needs more diversity, but AVOIDING IT makes it worse. I agree that she’s just digging her own grave with ignoring what people are sayign, but if she ever does decide to write diversely, she shouldn’t write about the marginalized experiences because 1) she’s not marginalized, and 2) because she already has a track record of ignoring the marginalized. Does that make sense? And thanks 💕

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      • Ahhhhh sorry I misinterpreted what you said! I didn’t realise you meant queerphobic/racist/abelist expereicnes – I thought you simply meant that only #OwnVoices should write about diverse issues. I myself am a queer writer so I was like I don’t really care if a non queer writer wrote about an LGBTQI+ character, but I am sure I would be annoyed if a non-marginalised writer wrote about completely incorrect experiences that results in queerphobia.
        My bad, thank you for clarifying! ❤

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  2. Good post. However, a book being #ownvoices doesn’t mean that there won’t be critical representation. Sometimes we internalise discrimination against our marginalisation or we may discriminate other communities.

    I agree that everyone should write diverse but I feel safer choosing a book in which the author shares the marginalisations of the main character, as we spend most time reading about them in the book and finding out things in their perspective.

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    • I completely agree! I’ve heard of a few #OwnVoices novels that ended up being horrible for other people. A few that come to mind are Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel & Allegedly! And same here-I’m not sure if I’d feel comfortable with someone who doesn’t share the marginalization for something that’s supposed to be about & for me/my marginalizations.

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